Apparently great pianists divide most of their time between concert venues and hotel rooms. I had the great privilege of conveying Jeremy Denk from one to the other in 2009, with an hour’s detour through a dark and smelly Cornish pub. It had been fifteen years since we talked Henry James over a pool table in a dark and smelly Indiana bar. I told Jeremy that I was planning to write a book about a piano tuner. He suggested that I read Watt by Samuel Beckett, because it involves a couple of piano tuners. Fortunately I did not write the book I intended to write — I wrote Snapper instead. Unfortunately I did read Watt by Samuel Beckett. It feels like a book written by someone who hates books and hopes, by writing one, to sully the whole enterprise for everyone*. Now suppose Henry James kept a blog. We’re going in the other direction here. Henry has been magically transported to the Age of Bullet Points — slugs of hot info designed to penetrate the thickest skull, and pretty much the antithesis of every line he ever wrote. They’re the Dirty Harry of punctuation. Henry has read some blogging guides exhorting him to be concise, include pictures, charts, interactivity! To his calibrated sensitivities it is as though he has entered a semantic abattoir wherein shade, echo and implication have been hacked off and discarded heedlessly underfoot. Naturally he would attempt to blog in such a way that nobody after him would ever wish to blog again. Like Samuel Beckett torturing old forms to create new ones, Henry James would mangle and conflate new media into some older, richer and more ambiguous form of expression. I am ambivalent about this blog, and I don’t know what it will look like a year from now. It could be full of cat videos or it could be littered with semicolons. I do know that Jeremy’s blog Think Denk contains long lucid essays of the kind the internet is supposed to discourage, and enlightening musical samples that must be very time-consuming to make, and other delights — it’s a paragon of innovative blogging. This does not mean that my blog will resemble his blog in any way. But it’s where I’ll take my cue.
* “An unsatisfactory book, written in dribs and drabs,” wrote Beckett of Watt. Glancing through it again just now, it occurs to me that read in dribs and drabs it might be tolerable. Who can say no to six pages of convoluted legalese regarding six famished dogs?